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Commodity crops

Page history last edited by Jessi Moths 12 years, 2 months ago

Commodity crops are crops grown, typically in large volume and at high intensity, specifically for the purpose of sale to the commodities market (as opposed to direct consumption or processing.) The most common commodity crops in the United States are corn, soybeans, and wheat; some areas also grow other commodities such as cotton, sorghum, tobacco, sugar beets, and non-wheat cereal grains. Many commodity crops re-enter the food production industry in some way: as oils, sweeteners, fillers and starches, or as animal feed for meat, milk, and egg production. They are also used in industrial manufacturing processes and even as substrate for producing biofuels. Commodity crop production in the United States has been in existence since the colonies, but the first organized futures markets were established in Chicago in the 1840s for sale and speculation of commodity crop futures (see also: Commodity Futures Trading Commission.) Now, commodity crops are perhaps most recognized for their support from federal agricultural subsidies, which originated in during the Great Depression in the New Deal. Today, about 62 cents of every commodity crop dollar comes from government subsidy.


Commodity crops have contributed, at least in part, to the global lowering of food costs. The industrial food system is supported by the cheap input costs of commodity-based components (high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, etc.) To some extent, this has allowed industrial food to expand immensely and feed many more people at much lower cost to the consumer. This is both positive in that it can control worldwide hunger, and negative, as we are seeing in foodborne illnesses and diet-related chronic disease rates.


Commonly-cited negative aspects of commodity crops are both environmental and economic/social. Environmentally, commodity crops are nearly always grown as large monocultures, sometimes from genetically-modified seeds and requiring heavy soil augmentation and pesticide application. Soil degradation, nutrient runoff, and habitat and species damage all result from these situations, which are now virtually the norm in the American Midwest and Great Plains agricultural regions. The economic and social impacts of commodity farming on farmers are also significant. Farming has become nearly untenable unless a farmer chooses to rely on the federal subsidy program and grow commodities. Commodity markets have driven crop prices so low that the profession of farming itself is disappearing and diminishing the inter-generational connections that farms once provided.







Entry: Jessi Moths

Checked: dn

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